Football is finally back, so it’s time to start looking at the Big 12’s Heisman hopefuls. The conference hasn’t claimed a Heisman trophy since Robert Griffin III of Baylor back in 2011. Out of the Power Five conferences, only the Big 10 has had a longer drought of Heisman winners (Troy Smith, Ohio State 2006).
It’s not like the Big 12 hasn’t had any close calls in recent years, though. Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma finished 3rd in the 2016 race and 4th in the 2015 race. TCU’s Trevone Boykin also finished 4th in the 2014 race.
The Heisman award is not an easy task by any means. The Big 12 does have one advantage though, and that is that the Heisman award is mostly won by offensive players. Let’s be honest, the Big 12 has not been praised for their defensive achievements the last few years. One thing the Big 12 does have an advantage at, compared to other conferences, is offensive firepower.
Here’s a few facts:
- Only one defensive player has won the Heisman since the award was introduced in 1935.
- Seven Big 12 teams finished in the top 30 in total offense in 2016, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma finishing with the 1 and 2 spots on the list, respectively.
- Since 2000, 14/16 past winners have been quarterbacks, a position of the highest praise in the Big 12.
- The other 2 past winners since 2000 have been running backs, another position that is highly touted in the Big 12
So let’s get into a list of players from the Big 12 that could bring home the Heisman trophy by the end of the 2017 college football season.
QB Baker Mayfield [Oklahoma]
Obviously, Mayfield is the favorite from the Big 12 to take home the Heisman trophy. As stated above, he finished 3rd in last year’s race and is likely to put together another strong season for the Sooners. Two discouraging things to think about when mentioning Mayfield’s name is the loss of his star receiver Dede Westbrook, and returning Louisville Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson.
Now only one player in college football history has won the Heisman award more than once (Archie Griffin in 1974 & 1975). This is usually because the Heisman winner decides to move on to the pros after their legendary season, so Jackson repeating as Heisman isn’t very far-fetched.
The loss of Dede Westbrook and running backs, Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon, could affect Mayfield’s play because of the uncertainty of their replacements. Another factor to look at is the coaching change and how Lincoln Riley decides to run the team. I wouldn’t be too worried though Sooner fans. Oklahoma always finds a way to be an offensive powerhouse and Baker has another year of experience under his belt. He should make a strong case for Heisman in 2017.
QB Mason Rudolph [Oklahoma State]
The second quarterback on the Heisman list is star Oklahoma State quarterback, Mason Rudolph. Rudolph was a star in the Big 12 in 2016, throwing for over 4000 yards and finishing 2nd in the Big 12 in Total Offense and Pass Efficiency. Unfortunately for Rudolph, Baker Mayfield decided to buy in to his final year of eligibility at OU and will be a tough guy to beat out for the trophy.
Overall statistics do not win the Heisman alone. The team has to compete at a top-tier level for any player to win the prestigious award. Luckily for Rudolph, Oklahoma State is projected to be a force to be reckoned with in 2017 and being the quarterback on a team that could potentially make a New Year’s Six Bowl game or even the college football playoff is a huge boost.
WR James Washington [Oklahoma State]
Washington is another surprise return in the Big 12 going into the 2017 season. The star receiver at Oklahoma State was a stand out in 2016 finishing with 1380 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Cowboys, including a 296 yard, two touchdown game against Pitt.
After a not-so-true injury “scare” a couple of weeks back, the receiver seems ready to go for the season opener against Tulsa. Another interesting tidbit for Washington is that he and Allen Lazard are the only two returners of the top six in receiving yards per game in the Big 12 in 2016.
RB Chris Warren III [Texas]
Warren returns after missing most of the 2016 season with injuries. A combination of his size and potential alone makes him a sleeper for Heisman in 2017. His breakout game in 2015 against Texas Tech had him rushing for 276 yards and four touchdowns and in 2016 he had a two touchdown, 119 yard game against Cal. If he stays healthy and Texas rises to the top of the Big 12, Warren could see his name being called. Another encouraging factor is that D’Onta Foreman, 2016 Texas running back, finished 8th in Heisman voting despite Texas only winning five games.
QB Kenny Hill [TCU]
Yes, I know, I’m giving Hill another chance. As the starter in 2016, he wasn’t as impressive as most Frogs fans would have liked. He was very inconsistent and had a couple great games, such as his five touchdown game against the Sooners and some terrible games such as his three interception game against the 2-win Jayhawks. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in 2017 and say if the Horned Frogs do well it will be, in large part, because of Hill’s performance.
QB Nic Shimonek [Texas Tech]
This may be a surprise to some people. Facts are facts, and the fact is that Texas Tech puts up numbers on offense. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is an offensive mind and knows how to run a successful offensive game. Shimonek is right there in the center of a high-powered offense and if Tech’s defense can put it together and be decent, Tech could make a splash in the Big 12. The odds aren’t in favor of Tech racking up wins, but if they should, Shimonek would get some serious recognition.
WR Allen Lazard [Iowa State]
Another long-shot choice at the Heisman is Cyclone receiver, Allen Lazard. Iowa State seems to be on a positive rise after being a bottom feeder in the Big 12 for a number of years, but even while the Cyclones were losing there was always one shining spot and that was Allen Lazard. Second year head coach, Matt Campbell seems to be heading the program in the right direction and if Iowa State makes an unexpected splash and finishes at the top of the Big 12, we could see Lazard holding up the trophy.
QB Will Grier [West Virginia]
Another sleeper in the Big 12 is West Virginia quarterback, Will Grier. Last year, Grier was suspended from Florida for the use of PED’s, so he has something to prove in 2017. Grier has all the potential to be in Heisman talks for 2017. West Virginia is a question mark concerning how good they will perform in 2017 due to the loss of starters, but Grier was solid at Florida before his suspension. Grier also has some prime receivers to help guide him to a possible Heisman.